Yumbulagang Palace

The first stop on the typical "scripted" tour to Tibet, the Yumbulagang palace was built in the seventh century, for a king whose name I absolutely can't remember, and couldn't even if I tried. Tibetan names are not the easiest to pronounce, or spell, especially when you get into the names of all the Tibetan Buddhas. This first palace of Tibet is about an hour's drive outside of Tse Dung. It rests high up on a mountaintop overlooking a large verdant valley. Probably one of the reasons why it was built here, was because of a major tributary of the nearby large river runs through the valley, offering the opportunity for relatively easy irrigation. One of the things that you notice in Tibet is how arid the land is. Just about all of their agriculture survives on a delicate process of ditch digging, water diversion, and irrigation. This area, because of the natural waterway going through the valley, offered a lot of farmable land.

Walking up the hill to the palace is quite the cardiac stress test, especially considering the fact that this took place on the second day, and the base elevation throughout most of the places I went was around 12,000 to 13,000 feet.

History in Tibet was kind of fascinating. It goes back a long way, and it consists of names that I wouldn't even dare to try to pronounce. As for history books, from what I could gather, much of it was contained in the scriptures that were found throughout the temples. No doubt much of it was passed down verbally through the ages. The scriptures that one could see lining the walls of some of the sacred areas of the temples basically looked like shoeboxes in size, with what appeared to be wooden covers, and long elongated yellow pages within. Most of this probably referred to Tibetan Buddhist history, which tended to be one and the same with the actual historical history. Stories of dalai lamas and what they did abound.

A view from the outside of the Yumbulagang palace. The green vegetation is not something that you commonly see in Tibet. My first impression of the country was far from what I had imagined. Thoughts of going to a beautifully vegetated and mountainous land, such as one might see in Switzerland, were quickly quashed after the drive from the airport. Thoughts of being on the moon started to become more relevant. Arid, dusty mountains was more like it. But despite the shattered expectations, it had a beauty all its own.

This area was one of the first areas in Tibet that was populated with what could best be called a "community". The main reason for this, was the ability to farm the local land. This photo demonstrates a pretty relevant contrast, that you usually see throughout the country. On the right, the typical arid desert mountainous land. On the left, irrigated farm land. A good deal of what I saw in Tibet is more like what you see on the right . Farming and irrigation is a struggle, as is life in general. Immediately below the palace can be seen the typical village, though what is difficult to see, is the typical walls that are built around each homestead, or division. Also, what you don't see here, is the typical Chinese military base, which is "there to defend the country against the Nepalese". HA! Sure....

There wasn't a local Chinese military base in this village, as there were two of them in nearby Tse Dung.

A monks living quarters in the Yumbulagang palace. Tibetan monks are "stationed" in all of the major temples and palaces, as caretakers and "security guards". From what I could gather, their most important reason for being there, was to make sure they got the extra dollar or two that was required to take pictures inside the structures. Protecting the artifacts from local Tibetans was just not necessary, as these people just didn't give me the impression of being capable of theft. Protecting the artifacts from the "imported" Chinese would just have been impossible....

Situated around or in just about all of the monasteries, palaces and temples in these areas are these prayer drums. The Tibetans are a deeply religious people, religious to the point where I think they put more emphasis on the various Buddha's taking care of them, than their taking care of themselves. In any case, the usual process to pray when around these "holy" structures, is to walk around the structure in a clockwise fashion, and spin each and every drum in the same clockwise fashion. (Counterclockwise is considered "bad luck". And "luck" has everything to do with everything in Tibet. The Chinese incursion into the country in the late fifties to "reunify" the country would have been considered "bad luck"...) You can also see the multicolored prayer flags hanging over the side of the palace. These same prayer flags can also be seen hanging on poles which are usually situated at each corner of a Tibetan residence. Each color has a significance; blue for sky, white for clouds, yellow for the earth, green for water, and red for fire. Prayer flags for each of these important aspects of life are seen everywhere.

The Yumbulagang Palace, as seen from below. It doesn't look too high, but try climbing up there your first day at this altitude. Note the typical Tibetan earthen construction of their buildings. Not also, in the foreground, a Tibetan boy who decided that running after me in the hopes of begging some money might get him and his family through the year. The begging started off being the typical cute yet pitiful "got to help the poor kids", and soon turned into the eventual "get out of my face" harassment. There is just too many of them. And a large majority of them beg. It's a sad commentary on what this country has turned into. I'm not sure if the Chinese "deliverance" in the late fifties had anything to do with all of this, but I would suspect, that as these people start to experience more of us, and what we have, they tend to want it. Begging increases as exposure to what one doesn't have does, so no doubt, the Tibetans have experienced quite the change from their usual history. Getting into the benefits and the such of the Chinese "deliverance" in, I believe, 1958, would definitely be outside the scope of where I want to go, and definitely far from what I would like to get into, but I will sum it up, basically, in the following.

The Chinese brought with them, of all things, electricity. Imagine a country without electricity. In 1958. Or significant plumbing. Or health care, modern, western, health care. (Tibetan medicine is similar to traditional Chinese medicine, but not as "sophisticated". Remember, everything had to do with "luck"). Imagine no structured education, other than Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan language. Farming skills were passed down through the family. Life went on for hundreds of years in this fashion, and no doubt, the people were happy.

Then, it all changed. With the influx of the Chinese, the typical Chinese architecture started erupting all throughout the various villages. Lhasa started to look more like a typical Chinese city than a Tibetan village. Earthen structures were replaced with the typical box like Chinese buildings. Military bases sprung up all over, with the sole purpose of "protecting the Chinese border with Nepal". (HA!) And the Chinese started controlling the economy. Imagine a system where you have budding Chinese capitalists dealing with highly religious Tibetan farmers. Let your imagination run wild, and you might come close to what is happening here.

But it isn't all that bad. The Chinese instituted mandatory education, which includes Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Language, and Chinese. Electricity and plumbing. Better agricultural methods. And an improved economy, which, most would say the Chinese are mostly taking advantage of, but, there are some Tibetans who have educated themselves and have advanced significantly. The good with the bad. Lose a little freedom, and gain economically.

Unfortunately, they should not have lost their country in the process.

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